Legislation passed in the House last Thursday would extend work week requirement for employees from 30 to 40 hours, and is projected to add more than $50 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years
THOMAS HEDGES, JOURNALIST/PRODUCER: On Thursday, the House passed legislation that changes a key provision within the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The bill proposes an increase in the workweek minimum employees need to qualify for insurance under their employers, from 30 hours a week to 40. Republicans, along with K Street groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association, argue that lengthening the minimum encourages employers to protect more full-time positions. CHARLES BOUSTANY, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE (R-LA-3): The House is taking action to save the American worker by lifting this threshold to a more realistic 40 hours a week. Having talked to companies, they’re going to be pushing more and more of these workers into part-time employment. HEDGES: Others say that this push has less to do with promoting full-time jobs than it does with refusing another 1 to 1.5 million Americans of the coverage they’d receive under Obamacare, which ultimately would save companies money. MARGARET FLOWERS, UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE ADVOCATE: At present, those who had employers that worked less than 30 hours a week and didn’t provide insurance did not have to pay a penalty. So what that did was a lot of employees that couldn’t provide insurance, they lowered their worker hours down below 30 so they could escape the penalty. Now they’ve risen that requirement up to 40 hours so that employees can work more hours and still not have insurance, and their employers don’t have to pay a penalty. HEDGES: Margaret Flowers is a Maryland pediatrician who now advocates full-time for a nation-wide single-payer health care system. She says supporters of the bill, for which 12 Democrats and all Republicans in the House voted, are using a right-to-work argument that has nothing to do with the actual provision. FLOWERS: Their argument was that it was an incentive for employers to cut back on their employee hours, and now they’re free to work more hours. I think what’s really interesting in this situation is that it was the industry and these large trade associations, like the Restaurant Association, which were behind the legislation. They were the ones pushing it. HEDGES: The argument that this benefits employers and not employees is reflected in a study the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published Tuesday. The study makes two important points that run counter to the GOP’s narrative of job growth and deficit reduction. The first is that the portion of the American workforce that works 40 hours a week is much larger than the one that works 30 hours a week. Only 7 percent of Americans work between 30 and 34 hours. Forty-four percent work 40 hours a week, which means that the pool of Americans who could lose coverage suddenly jumps 37 percentage points if the legislation is ever enacted. The second point is that raising the threshold would add some $50 billion to the deficit over the next ten years. VIJAY DAS, HEALTH CARE ADVOCATE, PUBLIC CITIZEN: With this change, over 1 million workers are going to be affected. They’re going to be thrown off the health insurance. Fifty-six–I believe $53 billion will be added to the deficit completely counter to what Republicans say in terms of fiscal responsibility because of this change, largely because that’s lost revenue that the employers would be normally required to pay for in the event that they didn’t want to pick up the tab of their workforce, right? And they would just pay the tax penalty, which is part of the design of the mandate. HEDGES: Vijay Das is a health care advocate of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer rights group that says that the most profound problem with health care in the United States is that it’s tied to a for-profit structure that thrives on the denial of coverage before anything else. DAS: This complexity that we’re dealing with, this conversation, is stemming from the fact that America stands alone in the developed world as having health insurance tied to employment, right, in that many analysts and experts and activists continually beat the drum that unless America actually pursues a universal health care program, we’re going to have these many challenges for working families to navigate the Byzantine process that is to get health insurance that’s quality and affordable in America. HEDGES: Das says Thursday’s measure’s more important for understanding the relationship between Obamacare and the GOP-controlled Congress of the long term than it is in the coming months. President Obama has already said that he would veto the bill if it passes through the Senate, and there’s little chance that Congress can override the veto. DAS: It’s important to remember that they’re doing this knowing that they’re building for a much larger campaign, which is to take the White House in 2016. Right? So, yeah, this is very much about putting your flag on the ground and trying to set up larger policy debates, because a lot of policy-making will not be happening out of Washington in the next two years. HEDGES: For The Real News, Thomas Hedges, Washington.
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